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The Whisper of the Muse / Portrait of G.F. Watts
Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815 - 1879)
Freshwater, Isle of Wight, England (Place Created)
Albumen silver print
26 × 21.4 cm (10 1/4 × 8 7/16 in.)
Each year George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) visited Freshwater for the summer, where Julia Margaret Cameron had the opportunity not only to converse with him but also to take his picture. An indefatigable theorist and proselytizer, he was an artistic missionary who sought to improve the condition of mankind through his art. In a letter to Cameron, Watts described his intentions: “If I could carry out my feeling perfectly, my pictures would be solemn and monumental in character, noble and beautiful in form, and rich in colour.” Although widely known as a portraitist, his preference was for the creation of grand allegorical compositions. Like Watts, Cameron was preoccupied with reconciling traditional content in art with modern forms of expression.
In The Whisper of the Muse Watts is presented as an inspired prophet, although his occupation has been altered to that of a musician. The idea for this photograph may have been inspired by Rembrandt’s painting The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by the Angel (1661), now in the Louvre, in which the child muse whispers in the saint’s ear as he composes his gospel. Cameron made at least two negatives at this sitting but the variant of this pictures does not have quite the dynamism or integration that she achieved here. (A print from that negative is part of the Collection of the Royal Photographic Society housed at the Victoria & Albert Museum.) This study is remarkable for the sophistication of its surface elements, which are skillfully arranged in a tightly compressed space. The sole distracting feature is the expression of Elizabeth Keown (born 1859, death date unknown) (see 84.XZ.186.3, 84.XZ.186.24, 84. XZ.186.31), whose head, resting on Watt’s arm above his right hand, is daringly truncated (the identity of the other model is unknown). Cameron inscribed the image “a Triumph!”—a proud claim that she had created a work worthy of her great friend and mentor.
Julian Cox. Julia Margaret Cameron, In Focus: From the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996), 40. ©1996 The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Daniel Wolf, Inc., sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1984.
Whisper of the Muse at Loyola Marymount University (September 12 to October 25, 1986)
- Laband Gallery, Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles), September 12 to October 25, 1986
Portrait Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron (November 25, 1987 to February 14, 1988)
- National Portrait Gallery (Washington D.C.), November 25, 1987 to February 14, 1988
The Art of Photography: 1839 - 1989 (February 11 to December 23, 1989)
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, February 11 to April 30, 1989
- National Gallery of Australia (Canberra), June 1 to August 1, 1989
- Royal Academy of Arts (London), September 23 to December 23, 1989
Julia Margaret Cameron: The Creative Process (October 15, 1996 to May 3, 1998)
- The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), October 15, 1996 to January 5, 1997
- Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), February 4 to May 3, 1998
Julia Margaret Cameron: Nineteenth Century Photographic Genius (February 6 to August 30, 2003)
- National Portrait Gallery (London), February 6 to May 18, 2003
- National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (Bradford), June 5 to August 30, 2003
Julia Margaret Cameron, Photographer (November 21, 2003 to January 11, 2004)
- The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), October 21, 2003 to January 11, 2004
A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography (February 4 to June 8, 2014)
- The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), February 4 to June 8, 2014
Cox, Julian. In Focus: Julia Margaret Cameron. Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996), p. 40-41, plate 17, ill.
Cox, Julian, and Colin Ford. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. Joanne Lukitsh and Philippa Wright, contributors. (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003), ill. pp. 438, 447. cat. no. 1086.
Ford, Colin, Julia Margaret Cameron: A Critical Biography (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003).